Genetic counseling students learn how to help people make medical decisions
raised by new advances in genetics.
Genetic counseling is offered as a master's degree, which means you'll
need a bachelor's degree in another field first. According to the National
Society of Genetic Counselors, most undergraduates who apply to a genetic
counseling program have earned degrees in biology, psychology, genetics
Many people will stop their education at the master's level, but others
who want to do research or teach will pursue a doctoral degree.
First-year master's students attend classes and lectures, learning the
intricacies of genetics and counseling. The second year is usually spent
in the field, treating patients in a hospital and doing clinical rotation
or lab work.
Cheryl Shuman is the director of a genetic counseling program. She says
her school's program balances classes with practical experience, including
clinical rotations, a lab practicum and an independent research project. Courses
include molecular approaches to health and disease, advanced concepts in human
genetic disease and principles of effective counseling.
In the second year, supervised students see their own patients. "It is a
very hands-on type of learning experience," says Anita Dircks. She is
the coordinator of a genetic counseling program.
Graduates may choose to become certified by the American Board of
Genetic Counseling, the accrediting organization for the profession. Most
employers expect you to be certified, especially in the U.S., says Dircks.
The board exam is only offered every three years, says Robin Grubs. She
directs the genetic counseling program at the University of Pittsburgh. While
you might not be able to take the exam right away, employers will want to
see that you are board-eligible, she says. To be board-eligible, you must
hold a master's from a recognized program.
Competition to get into genetic counseling programs is stiff.
Dircks says strong transcripts and professional recommendations
will help you get in. Students must have an A average in the third and fourth
year of college courses such as biochemistry, psychology, embryology and genetics.
Shuman says students also need strong writing skills and an ability
to interact well with others.
Admissions committees also look beyond grades. "We look at an individual's volunteer
experience, counseling experience and their knowledge about the profession,"
Grubs suggests students either gain research experience at a genetics lab
or work at a crisis counseling center.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Counselors
Genetics Resource Center
Links to general gene information, educational resources and
Careers in the Genetics Field
Interesting brochures on what genetics is and career paths
Genetic Science Learning Center
The basics about genetics, including information about genetic